While your average man can wear a t-shirt, jeans or chinos, and something warm and/or hooded almost everyday from cradle to grave, aging is obviously a lot more of a challenge for a woman's wardrobe. This is specially true during the transition into one's thirties, when shopping in the teen section of H&M is less of a fun, cheap alternative and more a way to look like a walking, talking cry for help. After all, no one wants to turn into Amy Poehler's character from Mean Girls, the delusional mom who puts on the same Juicy sweat suits and general slut gear as her teenaged garbage monster, but what seems like a worse fate is having to walk into a Chico's, Ann Taylor, or something other sensible lady store, especially when you're technically old enough to be a mom but still prioritize seeing The Hobbit when it opens at midnight and get genuinely excited when offered free candy.
While Muji doesn't sell much clothing on their website and only has US stores in San Francisco and New York, that makes sense since those cities have the highest concentration of semi-adult women in this predicament (except maybe Portland, but they've got that whole outdoorsy, Pacific Northwest Patagucci vibe going on, so fleece and flannel are much more of an equalizer). Before Muji opened stores here in the city, I thought it was just a place where you could get beautiful, useful Japanese objects—from wall clocks to pen sets to toilet kits—but it turns out they also sell a line of basics for men and women, most of which are made of natural fabrics, and all of which, in classic Japanese style, have one or two design elements make them a little less boring than the Gap.
I've started describing their clothes as Gap-anese, because while they do a nice Chambray oxford shirt, they bump it up by putting in a stripped lining and giving it more of a tunic fit; they don't over-do the quirk and push the art teacher factor too far, but they don't make you feel like you're putting yourself in the fashion prison of the mature and joyless.
Sometimes they overdo the loose fit, like with a black dress from this past season that had such a high waist, smocky-feel and excess of buttons down the front, it was less Gap-anese and more early '90s L.L. Bean. Still, while they do occasionally get too dowdy or boring, their clothes usually have just enough clever touches—stripes, asymmetry, well-placed darts—to make you feel like you're staying true to both your youthful-sensibility and your encroaching middle-age. Most importantly, their prices aren't crazy high—more expensive than the Gap, but much cheaper than J. Crew—and their accessories, from bags to socks, are reliable staples. I have to pass two H&Ms to get to their location in Soho, but at this point, I can do so without regret, and with my head held high.